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ORS: Lessons Learned

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Notebook interviewed several educators who were closely involved with the Office of Restructured Schools.

Sandra Moore, former head of the ORS
“One of the first things we did when we started was working on changing the mindset of teachers and administrators. That mindset was that teachers in Philadelphia can’t teach and children can’t learn. That’s not true. We provided motivation, honored teachers who were working hard and children who were wonderful. We tried to celebrate excellence.

“We established a Parent Academy, parents came together from all of our schools, and we listened to what they said.

“There were many, many pieces. It was not just one thing, but a combination.”

Debora Carrera, former principal of McKinley Elementary in North Philadelphia, an ORS school, now at Kensington CAPA.
“The thing that made [McKinley] successful was the academic supports. There were coaches, an emphasis on closing the achievement gap. Action plans were developed, meetings were held, and discussions were all around the data. There were a lot of academic conversations, and that hadn’t happened before to that extent.

“We made AYP for three years in a row, but we didn’t make it last year. The [supports] were stripped away. I was in shock; here was a reform model that was working, and it was just dissolved.”

Peggy Sears, a veteran teacher who helped develop the model while working in the ORS.
“The reason we were successful – we had a coach in every building. If a school was big, it had two coaches. We had five lead coaches. We had a lot of people who could do professional development and school monitoring.

“Every school had a full-time nurse, a full-time instructional assistant principal, every school had some kind of support around school operations…every school had [mental health] counselors who could do home visits.”

Donna Smith, an academic coach with ORS who is now principal of Wister Elementary School in Germantown.
“The outside coaches came in on a regular basis to establish relationships with teachers, and the teachers trusted them and willingly let them know what they needed help with. We could structure serious professional development around their needs…we could design a plan specifically for that school.

“[But] I thought the ORS schools were kind of ‘marked’ – that if they didn’t make great gains they would become a charter or EMO school. I don’t think schools should be marked like that. If you give them needed supports, just give them supports.”

-Interviewed by Dale Mezzacappa

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